Of the many reasons Roland Duchatelet’s regime has proved so poisonous to Charlton Athletic, constant short-sighted, narrow-minded and selfish decision-making has arguably had the most disastrous impact on the pitch.
Decisions not taken with the primary purpose of increasing the chances of the Addicks competing to an adequate level in the Championship, but in order for Duchatelet to mould this football club into the ideal state from which he can exploit it for his, and his philosophy’s, own gain.
Informing Chris Powell that Ben Hamer, Chris Solly and Yann Kermorgant were not good enough, and that those recruited from within or by the network would be much better. Employing head coaches, occasionally on an ‘interim’ basis, not on their ability to lead a side in the Championship but on their willingness to work within Duchatelet’s methods. Not bothering to adequately supplement the squad with enough depth, instead forcing academy graduates into the high-pressure environment of first team football which many have not been ready for. That sort of stuff.
The irreplaceable Kermorgant still not replaced, a head coach able of working with the limited tools Duchatelet provides, let alone capable of uniting the club like Powell did, still not found, and the damage of weak squads about to extend beyond harming personal development to resulting in Charlton’s relegation to League One. Mistakes made, repeated and rarely adequately addressed.
The victims of those mistakes treated without the respect their efforts for this club deserve by those who now control it, but often viewed with more appreciation by supporters than many of those who remain in SE7. It is not an exaggeration to say that excitement exists when a victim of the Duchatelet regime returns to The Valley, and that once strong bond can be momentarily relived.
But that momentary distraction from the disconnection that Duchatelet has caused at Charlton is tainted by a feeling of frustration. Frustration that these once cult heroes, or even just competent battlers in some cases, are wearing another club’s shirt in front of the Covered End, while their opposite number in red has neither the ability nor understanding of what it means to represent the Addicks to be considered an adequate replacement.
When Kermorgant returned to The Valley with Reading, for example, there was an obvious joy to see such an adored figure, and a figure that stands with us against this regime, once again. A figure so adored that his goals for the Royals were applauded, but it was with sadness that such a reaction was given.
No supporter wants to celebrate the failings of their side, but this was a showing to Katrien Meire and co. that their attempts to smear Kermorgant will never be successful, their efforts to replace him have not been good enough, and our bond with him will always be stronger. Our bond with the theoretical idea of what ‘our Charlton’ is will always be stronger than the one that Duchatelet is providing.
And with another bizarrely sold and poorly-treated cult hero who hasn’t been properly replaced returning to SE7 on Saturday, it can be expected that home supporters will again have to contend with an opposition player offering them a strong feeling of connection and increasing their anger towards the current state this football club is in.
In fact, this will be the first time that Michael Morrison has returned to The Valley since it was deemed his services were no longer needed. A constantly composed and quality centre-back, the leader of Powell’s consistent back line, and a committed performer always at the heart of gutsy performances, unjustifiably handed to Birmingham City without a fee being paid.
The relative success of the partnership between Andre Bikey and Tal Ben Haim, and Meire’s narrow-minded incompetence, effectively forcing him out of the club in October 2014 despite agreeing a new two-year contract prior to the season getting underway.
To the surprise of no one, aside from Duchatelet and Meire, the qualities of Morrison have been desperately missed ever since. It would not be long before Bikey and Ben Haim completely imploded, replacements including Oguchi Onyewu and Roger Johnson weren’t good enough, and the backline has continued to lack a proper leader.
Even in the cases of Patrick Bauer and Jorge Teixeira, who both made excellent starts to their Charlton careers but grew progressively more sloppy and error-prone, they would have been better served forming a partnership with Morrison, and not attempting to replace his presence in the side despite having no Championship experience.
It’s that presence, with his ability to lead, organise and galvanise, that you feel could have made a genuine difference since the turn of the year. At the very least, there would at least be someone in the back line still fighting against adversity, and maybe doing something productive when defending a set-piece.
It’s a presence that Birmingham’s successful season, which it can be deemed regardless of whether they finish in the top six or not, has been built around. Morrison leading his defence superbly, and creating a base from which Gary Rowett’s side have been able to secure victory in tight games. The Blues winning eight games this campaign by the odd goal.
It’s a presence that will undoubtedly get the respect it deserves from Addicks at the weekend. As has been the case at St Andrew’s when Charlton have travelled to Birmingham, player and his former supporters will show each other their appreciation for each other.
A frustrating and disappointing shame, therefore, that Morrison was not given the respect he deserved by this regime.
After a two week period without events on-the-pitch causing confusion, insult and despair, it is something of an unwelcome return to the reality of Charlton Athletic’s sluggish grind towards an almost inevitable relegation to League One.
Not only the horrible reality that the league table provides, with the Addicks an effective seven points from safety with eight games remaining, but the unavoidable and very real fear created by the quality of opposition to be played before the conclusion of this horrendous season.
A quality so high that this weekend’s game at The Valley against play-off chasing Birmingham City appears one of the kinder fixtures in Charlton’s run in. Kinder in the same way that watching Naby Sarr attempt to play football is a more pleasant experience than witnessing Roger Johnson’s efforts.
For though it would arguably be even more irrational to feel a trip to Ipswich Town and home games against Derby County, Brighton and Hove Albion and Burnley will provide much reward for Jose Riga’s side, it takes little away from the extremely tough test the Blues will provide.
Gary Rowett creating a structured unit, building a strong Michael Morrison-led defensive resolve, and instilling his side with an efficient forward threat. Birmingham, with their comparatively limited resources but almost unmatched cohesion, able to overachieve for the duration of this campaign.
In contrast, of course, to the disjointed, defensively tame and gutless efforts of Charlton throughout the season. Supporters of the Blues have been given a side they can believe in, while The Valley faithful have been left disconnected from their club as a result of Roland Duchatelet’s regime.
A reminder, therefore, of the reality of the need to protest against the club’s ownership. That the other battle the Addicks face, and one that is likely to be met on Saturday with a much more coordinated, effective and determined effort than anything those wearing Charlton colours on the pitch will provide.
LAST MEETING – BIRMINGHAM CITY 0-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
Charlton unexpectedly recorded their first away win of the season at St Andrew’s in November thanks to Johnnie Jackson’s 50th goal for the Addicks.
In a tight affair, the hosts created the first genuine opening just after the break when Jacques Maghoma’s cross-cum-shot flashed past a motionless Stephen Henderson and skimmed beyond the post.
But it was the Addicks who took a decisive lead, with Jackson rising highest and powerfully heading home from Tareiq Holmes-Dennis’ cross. His half-century goal well celebrated by those in the away end.
And further celebrations followed as Karel Fraeye’s determined side held out for the remaining 29 minutes. A second successive victory, after being Sheffield Wednesday the previous weekend, but Charlton’s final win for 13 games, and the final win before the interim boss was dismissed.
Regardless of what occurs in their remaining nine games of the season, it is fair to say that Birmingham’s season will remain an excellent one.
Though impressing many in his efforts to lead the Blues away from trouble last season, few expected Rowett to maintain a season-long play-off push with comparatively limited resources. Their overachievement, built primarily on a strong collective effort and a determined defensive line, meaning that a top six finish remains in sight with nine games to play.
But that isn’t to say that falling short wouldn’t be a disappointment, nor that the fact the Blues have started to stutter while those around them find their best form isn’t frustrating.
A hard-though 1-0 win over Hull City at the start of March left them just one point off the top six, but just two points, and one goal, from the following three games has seen that gap extend to six points, softened slightly by virtue of the Blues having played a game less than their competitors.
Those competitors, such as Sheffield Wednesday, have fared somewhat better. The Owls emphatically dismantling the Addicks at Hillsborough prior to the international break.
Slip-ups in their run-in, particularly against the likes of Charlton, can’t be afforded if they are to finish in the top six.
It is telling of the extent of the horrendous position the Addicks find themselves in that gaining seven points from three games has been made relatively meaningless by the defeat that followed.
The 3-0 loss at Hillsborough quickly killing off the faint sense of hope that had, in particular, been created by the victory over Middlesbrough.
For not only did it leave Charlton with an unrealistic margin to make up in order to maintain their Championship status, but the performance against Wednesday was a complete shambles. More fitting of their efforts throughout the campaign, rather than the determined and spirited display against Boro.
Concerning, too, to see Riga’s decision making again appear questionable. Having been held accountable for the failure to beat MK Dons and in a must win game, starting Reza Ghoochannejhad and leaving Ademola Lookman on the bench did the head coach, or Charlton, few favours.
Birmingham’s hopes of handing a debut to Kyle Lafferty appear to have been derailed after the Northern Ireland international suffered a groin injury while away with his country.
Lafferty, signed on loan from Norwich City during the international break, has failed to make an impression at Carrow Road, but was talismanic in his country’s successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, scoring on seven occasions, and there was hope he would address Birmingham’s recent troubles in front of goal.
But Diego Fabbrini, who failed a late fitness test ahead of the game against Fulham prior to the international break, is likely to be available.
There may also be a start for experienced centre-back Paul Robinson, who was rested by Rowett for the games against Wolves and Fulham prior to the international break. The Blues boss hopeful that giving the 37-year-old some time off will prolong his career, and allow him to handle the demands of back-to-back fixtures.
Charlton should welcome back Jordan Cousins after the midfielder missed the defeat at Hillsborough prior to the international break through a slight injury.
Cousins, who is likely to come in for El-Hadji Ba, could also be joined in midfield by Jackson, with the skipper making a return from the bench against Wednesday. Alou Diarra may drop into the backline, replacing the unconvincing Rod Fanni, in order to accommodate the skipper.
But it remains to be seen whether Stephen Henderson or Chris Solly will return from their own respective injuries, given the lack of information that has been given on the pair since they last played against Reading and Preston respectively. Henderson’s injury seemingly changing every week, and next to nothing mentioned about the vice-skipper.
The pair will, however, surely come into the side if fit, and further changes to the XI that lost at Hillsborough are not unlikely.
Particularly in attack, with Lookman and Simon Makienok in line to replace Ghoochannejhad as Yaya Sanogo serves the final games of his three-match ban.
KEY BATTLE – THE FIRST GOAL
Putting Birmingham City’s game on your both teams to score accumulator this season will have rarely proved fruitful.
On just 12 occasions have both teams found the back of the net in games involving the Blues, with Rowett’s men recoding ten wins to nil. A consequence of that resilient, Morrison-led backline, which is unwilling to give away a lead once gained.
Rowett’s side don’t deploy negative tactics or anti-football as stats like those might suggest, they are merely determined and intelligent. Everything the Addicks are not.
However, the Blues have struggled for goals at times this season, and appear particularly fragile in front of goal having fallen behind. On nine occasions this campaign have they suffered defeat without scoring.
It therefore appears that the first goal in the game will be crucial, not least given the impact it is likely to have on a Charlton side that can perform when possessing some confidence, but completely capitulate otherwise.
Finally working out how to defend set-pieces with some success, and not providing an easy opportunity from which the visitors can gain a lead to hold, is as vital as ever.
The beginning of a gruelling final period of a gruelling season. Charlton Athletic 0-2 Birmingham City
A little over three years ago, Danny Haynes provided one of the best moments I’ve experienced as a Charlton supporter. His audacious volley, dipping over a stranded Kasper Schmeichel, giving the Addicks a stunning victory over Leicester City at the King Power Stadium.
An incredible win at the time, but one that has arguably become more special given the two different directions the clubs have headed in since. Charlton in complete crisis; Leicester closing in on being champions of England. It feels like an entire era has passed since Yann Kermorgant’s’ second silencing act, Haynes’ stunner, and Chris Powell’s side inflicting defeat upon the hosts at the King Power.
Much has also changed for some of the protagonists involved in February 2013. Johnnie Jackson and Chris Solly the only Addicks in the squad that night that remain at the club, Ben Hamer now a Fox, and Jamie Vardy’s non-league to international fairytale story greatly developed from the time it was stalling on Leicester’s bench.
And if it is Vardy, from unused substitute to England goalscorer, who has grown more than anyone that was involved at the KP three years ago, then maybe we can call Haynes the anti-Vardy.
Not quite international to part-time footballer, but from filling me with joy by scoring a sensational winner at the soon-to-be Premier League winners to inflicting misery upon me with a goal in victory for Boreham Wood against Dover Athletic, my non-league team of choice.
Haynes, on loan at the National League strugglers from Peter Varney’s Ebbsfleet, appeared unmarked at the back post in first-half stoppage-time to head home and add to Jamie Lucas’ third minute well-taken goal at Meadow Park.
Lucas, capitalising on a defensive mix-up between goalkeeper Mitch Walker and defender Richard Orlu, was able to add a third with nine minutes to play, sealing a win for Boreham Wood as unlikely as Charlton’s at Leicester in 2013.
Dover unbeaten in five, occupying a play-off position, and coming into the game after a 5-0 thrashing of Torquay on Saturday, while Boreham Wood were without a win in five, found themselves in the bottom four prior to kick-off, and had been hammered 4-1 by leaders Cheltenham Town on Friday.
But it was certainly not an undeserved win for the hosts, nor a margin of victory that didn’t reflect the difference in quality between the two sides over the course of the 90 minutes. An attendee without knowledge of the National League would have assumed it was Boreham Wood attempting to cling onto a play-off spot, and Dover attempting to avoid falling into the sixth tier of English football.
The contrast between the two sides apparent from the start, or at least after Haynes, playing on the left wing, had slipped while attempting to control a punt up field from kick-off. Wood’s third minute strike not a fortunate goal against the run of play, but setting the tempo of the game.
Full-back Ben Nunn picking up possession in his own half and allowed to bomb forward unchallenged, the ball worked to Clovis Kamdjo, and a static Dover defence effectively watching on as Lucas turned the flamboyantly-haired midfielder’s low delivery beyond Walker.
The hosts exploiting a sort of unorganised defending that Charlton would be proud of, and continuing to do so once the game restarted. Boreham Wood, pressing in a structured fashion when out of possession and breaking with pace and strength having regained the ball, easily able to pick off the loose touches and wayward passes of the usually influential Nicky Deverdicks in midfield, while constantly leaving Dover’s backline in a state of panic. Kamdjo picked out in space on the edge of the box, but unable to keep his strike down.
So it was against the run of play that the visitors created a decent opening of their own. Ricky Miller breaking into the box, with Ricky Modeste screaming for a pass to his right, only to drag a shot tamely wide.
A sign, though, that Dover still had the quality to get back into this game. A threat of sorts certainly existing down either flank, with Modeste and Craig Braham-Barrett lively, but a final ball was lacking.
Boreham Wood’s deliveries, however, were providing much greater concern to their opposition’s backline. A chip to the back post from Haynes, growing into the game but yet to make a real impression, vitally intercepted by Jack Parkinson with a forward lurking.
And further worry was provided to visiting supporters as Modeste, battling with goalkeeper James Russell to meet a Braham-Barrett cross, immediately held his hamstring having hauled himself up off the floor. His afternoon over, and Tom Murphy on to replace him.
The enforced change certainly not helping Dover to settle. A Boreham Wood player clumsily brought to ground in the middle as Sean Raggett desperately hacking a Haynes ball across the face of goal away, but the referee showed no interest.
Nor did the official as Kamdjo broke into the box from out wide, and appeared to be quite obviously tripped by Chris Kinnear Junior’s outstretched leg as he entered the box. The visitors incredibly fortunate to still only be trailing by one, and thankful once again moments later as Haynes could only produce a tame shot straight at Walker after an excellent run.
But it would not be long, although long enough for the referee to be injured and need to be replaced by his female assistant, before the former Addick would show a great deal more potency.
Again, it was a goal that could have been avoided were it not for slack Dover defending. Those in blue seemingly content to watch an overhit cross go out of play, but Conor Clifford was able to keep the delivery in play with relative ease, and calmly pick out an unmarked Haynes at the back post. He need only cushion the ball towards goal to double his side’s lead and score his second since joining Boreham Wood on loan.
Not quite that goal at Leicester, but an important one in the context of this game.
Particularly with Dover, though still not anywhere near the sort of quality you would expect, starting the second period with some intent. Stefan Payne’s curling effort from the edge of the box denied by a stunning save from Russell, before beating the goalkeeper only for the referee to adjudge there had been a foul in the build-up. Dubious, but the sexist comments towards an official that was controlling the game very well completely unnecessary.
In fact, the more questionable decision making belonged to those in Dover shirts. Braham-Barrett’s low drive from a tight angle blocked off by Russell when a pullback might have been the better option, and excellent hold up play from Payne tainted by his resulting strike skimming harmlessly across the face of goal.
And though these chances were promising, certainly in comparison to their efforts in the first half, time was not on Dover’s side. Twenty minutes to play as Nunn turned a corner goalwards, only for Walker to save with confidence and keep the visitors in the game.
But that they remained in the game seemed to matter little when they were so timid when in the final third, and struggled to find ways past a defiant and still well-organised Boreham Wood backline. Deverdicks seemingly always looking for a pass that wasn’t there, and Murphy’s deliveries were not pleasant.
Even when Dover thought they might have found a way through, the hosts recovered. Scott Doe hacking a goalbound ball clear after Russell spilled under pressure from Payne, before the goalkeeper again denied the forward in superb fashion, tipping his header over the bar.
A solace of sorts could be found in the genuine discomfort voiced around me whenever Haynes carried the ball forward, as he continued to cause a threat with a little over ten minutes to play. An attempt to replicate a slightly less spectacular version of his goal against Derby, cutting in and lifting the ball towards the top corner, not too far away. The former Addick then subbed with his hamstrings still intact.
Dover’s pride, however, was certainly not left intact. For Walker, as composed and confident as anyone wearing a Dover shirt, somehow managed to spill the ball having come to collect as Orlu attempted to hold off Lucas. The forward, unable to believe his luck, tapping into an empty net and leaving Walker crestfallen.
A complete mess that reflected Dover’s efforts throughout the game. It would have been four had a through-on-goal Kamdjo not seen his strike well blocked by Orlu, but further embarrassment was to come as Murphy, having been brought on earlier in the contest, was withdrawn with five minutes to play. Many others in Dover colours lucky to be seeing out 90 minutes.
But while they had unquestionably been dire, with regular watchers suggesting this was Dover’s worst performance of the season, it would be wrong to suggest that is the only reason Boreham Wood recorded such an emphatic victory.
Their game plan, keep it tight at the back, battle hard in midfield and exploit an uncomfortable defence on the break, was incredibly effective. Even in those second-half moments when Dover applied pressure, Boreham Wood’s backline had a commendable resolve about it, and the visitors were allowed no time on the ball on the edge of the box.
In contrast, of course, to Dover’s defensive efforts. Second to every loose ball, giving the opposition far too much space and time on the ball, and far too nervy to suggest their backline was anything like resolute. The conceding of three completely avoidable goals through defensive sloppiness about right.
You hope, particularly if they are to maintain their play-off place, that this was merely a one-off horror show that I have been unfortunately subjected to.
Maintaining, however, is something I hope one player that featured at Meadow Park doesn’t do. Not only because he scored against Dover, but there was a bittersweet feeling about seeing Haynes, who provided some other enjoyable moments in a very likeable Charlton side, play once again.
A player capable of doing things like he did for the Addicks in the Championship should not be playing at this level at just 28.
The reason why he’s representing Boreham Wood is relatively obvious. His horrendous injury record, which not only harms his chances of playing but so too his ability. Each hamstring strain will have made him weaker.
And he was not mesmerising or a class above, like he probably should have been, but he played very well. There is still a decent amount of quality there, and I do hope he can return to the Football League.
While Vardy has been given an opportunity to fulfil his potential, you can’t help but feel that maybe Haynes’ situation means potential has been left unfulfilled. Not to the same extent, obviously, but I find it incredibly frustrating that a player who gave me lots of thrills hasn’t had the career he should have.
At the very least, as Vardy, a man who watched his match-winning volley from Leicester’s bench, continues to rise, I hope Haynes can at least halt his fall. Like almost every player that featured in *the* Chris Powell sides, I appreciate him.
In familiar surroundings, this group of players wearing red appeared lost. At a ground where the Addicks have previously shown resilience, character and fight in memorable victories, it was impossible to identify any of those attributes. On what will almost certainly be their final visit to Hillsborough before returning to League One, Charlton put in a performance that shamed their past efforts in the blue half of Sheffield.
It was, in truth, only the badge on their chest that the Addicks emulated from previous visits to this grand old arena as they succumbed to Sheffield Wednesday’s second-half display.
The defensive cohesion and determination of the 1-0 win in 2012 replaced by an unstructured shambles. The Owls, first through Tom Lees’ nodding in at the back post and then Fernando Forestieri pouncing after Atdhe Nuhiu had headed against the post, punishing this weak Charlton effort after the interval.
Nor was there the willingness to battle in testing circumstances that was so crucial in the 2014 FA Cup win. These lost figures, displaying looks of bemusement and frustration, never likely to work their way back into the game, and ultimately conceding a third. Alex Lopez’s strike following a half-cleared corner deflected behind Nick Pope by El-Hadji Ba’s lazily outstretched leg.
And there was certainly no unexpected quality, no one in the Marvin Sordell mould, to be found in the final third. A forward line, led ineffectively by Reza Ghoochannejhad, too often running into dead ends, frequently making horrendous decisions, and never possessing the quality to test Kieren Westwood in the Wednesday goal.
As full-time approached, in fact, Westwood was keeping himself busy by twirling his underused arms to keep warm. Charlton supporters, whose support had long worn thin, turning their attentions to demanding the departure of Roland Duchatelet.
An owner who has suggested protesting supporters want their club to fail. But as the Addicks, despite claiming seven points from their previous three games, sit an effective seven points from safety with eight games to go, it is apparent that it is Duchatelet’s system that has failed.
And this is a failure, having enjoyed several enjoyable days at Hillsborough, that Charlton supporters could not possibly celebrate. They’ve seen the best of their club here, and now they’ve seen the final nail hammed into what remain of it.
In truth, any optimism that existed following last Saturday’s win over Middlesbrough was tainted by Jose Riga’s frustrating team selection.
Injury to Jordan Cousins, man of the match against Boro, meant the unimpressive Ba would do battle with Sam Hutchinson in Wednesday’s midfield, while the reluctance to play Ademola Lookman returned as he was replaced by Ghoochannejhad in attack.
Not only did the Iranian appear unlikely to outmuscle Glenn Loovens and Lees, but a partnership with the out of position Callum Harriott meant Charlton’s attack, particularly with Forestieri and Gary Hooper leading the line for the opposition, didn’t strike you as threatening.
No surprise, therefore, that it was Wednesday, and Forestieri, who had the game’s first chance. Pope saving well after the diminutive Italian headed Ross Wallace’s cross goalwards.
But that isn’t to say the Addicks camped in and merely accepted their fate from the off. Ba beating Hutchinson to the ball, winning his side a free-kick as he did, only for Johann Berg Gudmundsson to fire straight against the wall.
In fact, relatively speaking, this was quite a promising start from Riga’s unfancied men. Either side of Hutchinson blasting over, both the pressure and presence of Ghoochannejhad and Harriott forced Westwood into moments of panic. Both ultimately fruitless, as Westwood regained a loose ball and Ghoochannejhad was too indecisive after Harriott charged down a clearance, but an early suggestion that the Addicks were at least prepared to fight.
But reading anything into those half-chances would have been misguided, for Charlton soon began to frustrate. Far too much time was taken on the ball, decision making was universally poor and sideways possession was often given away in cheap fashion. Mounting worthwhile attacks becoming increasingly difficult.
Particularly with Charlton’s backline appearing uncomfortable, it should have presented a situation to Wednesday from which they were able to dominate. Wallace’s skied free-kick, Daniel Pudil’s wayward first-time strike and Forestieri’s tame effort wide building towards something.
So too, however, were Wednesday seemingly intent on frustrating their own supporters. Their neat passing triangles most certainly neat, but too slow and predictable to break the Addicks down. Another sideways pass taken while static men waited in the box.
It meant the game, but for an outrageously cynical Hutchinson tackle on a breaking Marco Motta that would have sparked a fighting scene in previous reenactment of this fixture, struggled to develop any sort of excitement or tempo. Useful for Charlton, who probably would have settled for a point and had the pace of Harriott to call upon during this extended lull, but not particularly for the game as a whole.
And though the visiting supporters were offered the opportunity to sarcastically celebrate seeing their side shoot at goal before the break, with Westwood gleefully collecting Harriott’s tame prod, the half-time whistle was a welcome reprieve from having to endure this tepid affair.
Wednesday undoubtedly the better side, but not doing enough in the final third to confidently be able to suggest they deserved the lead, while the Addicks carried enough threat on the break to mean making an early exit from Hillsborough didn’t yet seem like a totally wise move.
But it was during the interval where the difference between these two sides was exposed. While Riga, evidently content enough with Charlton’s efforts, made no changes in strategy or personnel, Carlos Carvalhal looked to make his somewhat cautious and lacklustre side more dominant and direct. Nuhiu, in place of the ineffective Aiden McGeady, introduced, allowing Forestieri to play out wide, with Hutchinson withdrawn in favour of Lopez.
Immediately there was more pace, power and desire to control the game in Wednesday’s play. The Hillsborough crowd responding positively as Pope got behind Wallace’s effort, before the goalkeeper was needed to pluck the ball off the feet of Nuhiu yards from goal.
It was Nuhiu who was seemingly the catalyst for this increase in tempo. Not necessarily directly, though the big Austrian was giving an uncomfortable-looking Jorge Teixeira and Rod Fanni a persistent challenge in the air, but by allowing Forestieri the space to roam free. The Italian increasingly dangerous, and only a smart reflex save from the defiant Pope prevented his run forward concluding with a deflected effort putting the Owls ahead.
With the home supporters vocal, Wednesday continuing to threaten, and an uneasy fear spreading throughout the away end, it was easy to forget that Charlton had showed signs in the first half of possessing some sort of threat on the counter. Easy, too, to feel somewhat shocked as Harriott fed Yung Suk-Young into a fantastic position just beyond the hour. The finish, however, more predictable, as the QPR loanee sliced horribly wide with unmarked red shirts screaming for the ball in the middle.
An important moment in the game? Possibly. An undeserved lead for the Addicks would have crushed Wednesday’s momentum, maintained as Kieron Lee tested Pope from distance. But such was the unconvincing manner in which the visitors were defending it’s hard to imagine a Charlton advantage would have made much difference to the final outcome.
The timing of Suk-Young’s dreadful strike, however, means it has to be considered as the game’sdecisive point. For two minutes after wasting a glorious opening, Charlton found themselves behind.
And there could be no complaints. Not only because this was a goal that the overall pattern of the game had been suggesting was coming, but yet another goal conceded from a poorly defended corner. Lees picked out at the back post, the centre-back rising highest, and the ball thumped into the roof of the net. Twenty-four minutes remained, and Igor Vetokele was being prepared on the sidelines, but this was game over.
Confirmed, if it were not already, just four minutes later as the Addicks once again failed to contend with a delivery into the box. No meaningful challenge from anyone in red as Jack Hunt crossed, and the second-half’s key men pounced. Nuhiu nodding against the post, before Forestieri threw himself into the rebound and headed in from close range. Wednesday’s advantage, or at least Charlton’s punishment, now fitting of their efforts.
The only defiance from anyone connected with the Addicks came from the away end, as the visiting supporters stood as one to demand Duchatelet departs their club. They had been supportive once again, and not rewarded.
In fact, it would be just a further seven minutes before this evidently disgruntled and beaten group of Addicks conspired to inflict further punishment upon those that had travelled to Hillsborough. The response to a half-cleared corner, conceded after yet another excellent Pope save from a Forestieri effort, pathetic as those in red watched the ball fall to Lopez, and look on as the substitute’s strike found the back of the net via Ba’s half-hearted attempt to block.
Lazy, lacklustre, lifeless. At least Ba was quickly replaced by Johnnie Jackson – unlikely to make any sort of difference, but even more unlikely to put in a questionable amount of effort.
Also unlikely to make any sort of difference was the sight of Motta popping up unmarked deep inside Wednesday’s box, but it would have been nice if he’d made more of the opening. The Italian slicing an effort wide as Westwood continued to yawn.
In fact, as the away end began to empty, there was a desperate plea from those that were staying until the very end for the final whistle. The sound of which was delayed as Harriott, inspired by frustration, clattered into Hunt and leaving the full-back needing to be carried off on a stretcher. Petulant, and only increasing the sorrow among the visiting supporters.
So much so that as referee Atwell, not always keeping himself on the side of Charlton supporters, blew the game’s final whistle, there was not an obvious cry of outrage of overwhelming boo.
The players not dramatically abused as they attempted to applaud the travelling supporters, but barely acknowledged. A sort of uncomfortable silence as those in the away end headed home, and Wednesday supporters celebrated.
A silence that reflected a group of supporters who had seen a side they struggle to identify with head closer towards a return to League One. Hope, understandably, is lost.
Hope, however, is certainly not lacking in the blue half of Sheffield. Their side may not necessarily possess the individual quality that others in the top six do, but their collective strength and balance makes them an incredibly likeable unit. I would be surprised if they don’t finish in the top six.
Not least given their ability to summon an incredible amount of intensity after a period of appearing a little flat. The introduction of Nuhiu, and the moving of Forestieri to a wide position, upping Wednesday from in control but ineffective to completely dominant.
Charlton’s intensity, meanwhile, decreased from minimal to minus. Especially after the hope that was provided by the nature of the performance and victory over Middlesbrough last Sunday, this was a particularly pathetic effort.
Of course, Cousins was a huge miss, and meant the Addicks looked very flat in midfield. But his absence is no excuse for the way others played. Ba and Ghoochannejhad are simply not good enough, neither in terms of ability or commitment, and matters are hardly helped when Gudmundsson, one of few players in this side with match-winning ability, is almost completely anonymous.
Another with that match-winning ability, despite his tender years, is Lookman. Riga’s reluctance to play him is bizarre, especially with Ghoochannejhad shoe-horned in. In fact, both today and in previous weeks, Riga’s decisions have been underwhelming at best.
He’s been unable to react to testing situations, and I find it difficult to think of a tactical change that has deserved plaudits since his return. He’s certainly had no impact on this side’s weak mental attitude.
As Duchatelet might say, it’s like he wants us to fail.
At least Pope didn’t. Standing behind a defence that was desperate rather than defiant, the goalkeeper pulled off some excellent saves, and at least provided hope that we’ll have a decent shot-stopper upon our return to the third tier.
For that is where we are undoubtedly heading. To League One.
Our equals and competitive rivals for a number of years, the current gap between Charlton Athletic and Sheffield Wednesday perfectly displays how avoidable the crisis at The Valley should have been.
For while Wednesday, led by owner Dejphon Chansiri with an emphasis on footballing success, occupy a spot in the Championship’s play-offs, the Addicks, infected by Roland Duchatelet’s poisonous regime, find themselves trapped in the division’s bottom three. Ambitious leadership, and chants of “we’re on our way back”, contrasted with destructive ownership, and supporters forced to protest to protect the future of their club.
With a degree of common sense, or at least using a strategy that places the development of the football club first and personal gain second, Charlton could have maintained their competitive rivalry with the Owls. Ducatelet’s regime, like Chansiri’s has to Wednesday, should have pushed the Addicks ahead, and not completely crippled them.
In fact, having competed against each other 12 times, many of them memorable encounters, since 2010, Saturday’s clash at Hillsborough looks likely to be the last between Charlton and Wednesday for some time.
The gap, avoidable and unnecessary, between two sides that have been equals for so long yet another frustration provided by Duchatelet’s flawed running of this club.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 3-1 SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY
Charlton unexpectedly recorded their first win in 13 games with an excellent victory over the Owls at The Valley in November.
Johnnie Jackson’s thumping header, latching onto Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s corner, gave the Addicks the lead midway through the first half, and Simon Makienok, turning in another delivery from the Icelandic winger, doubled the hosts’ advantage on the stroke of half-time.
The win, which was also Karel Fraeye’s first as Charlton interim-but-not-interim head coach, appeared to be sealed just after the break, with Reza Ghoochannejhad converting from Morgan Fox’s ball across the face of goal.
But Naby Sarr’s slip, allowing Keiran Lee to beat him on the flank and cross for Fernando Forestieri to finish, set up an unnecessary nervy final 17 minutes.
And though Lucas Joao and Lewis McGugan went close, the Addicks held on for their first win since August.
Sheffield Wednesday: WDLDDL
Relief more than joy was the overriding feeling as the Owls beat Nottingham Forest 3-0 last Saturday. A run of five games without victory, and three without scoring, brought to an end in emphatic fashion.
In truth, the previous month or so hasn’t been as disappointing for Carlos Carvalhal’s side as that run might suggest. Defeats to Preston and Rotherham infuriating, but goalless draws away at promotion-chasing Hull City and Brighton, in the grand scheme of things, commendable efforts and decent points.
But with seventh placed Cardiff and eighth placed Ipswich just a point behind Wednesday in sixth, further slip ups can’t be afforded. The return of Fernando Forestieri, impressive at the City Ground and possessing the individual ability to turn tight contests the way of the Owls, following suspension the sort of boost required.
Such is the extent of the on-the-pitch predicament that the Addicks find themselves in, not even a week in which seven points have been gained from three games is enough to make their chances of avoiding relegation appear realistic.
For though a week without victory doesn’t bare thinking about – a return to League One would have been all but confirmed – a week with two hasn’t reduced the gap between Charlton and safety to a manageable margin.
Effectively six points from safety, with those around the bottom three finding their own ways to pick up points, and a run in that features four of the top six, survival still looks a long way off.
But, if nothing else, it has provided hope to disillusioned supporters that their side will at least fight and battle for the remainder of the season. A distraction from the insults and anger caused by the club’s poisonous ownership.
Sheffield Wednesday will be without Barry Bannan after the influential midfielder was dismissed during last weekend’s victory over Nottingham Forest.
The club were unsuccessful in appealing in the Scotland international’s three-match ban, dished out for a rash challenge on Forest full-back Eric Lichaj at the City Ground, and will be hoping that Sam Hutchinson is fit enough to replace him.
Lewis McGugan and Alex Lopez other possibilities to fill the hole left by Bannan’s absence in midfield should Hutchinson not recover from the illness that kept him out of the side last Saturday.
Jackson could return to the Charlton squad having missed the previous six games through injury.
The skipper, however, is unlikely to come straight back into the starting XI after the excellent performances of Jordan Cousins and Alou Diarra in the centre of midfield against Boro at the weekend.
Simon Makienok should also be involved again after missing Sunday’s victory through illness, and there could be returns for Stephen Henderson and Chris Solly, but both will be assessed prior to Saturday’s game. Nick Pope and Marco Motta will continue to deputise in their absence should they remain unavailable.
Elsewhere, Patrick Bauer has returned to training, but remains a number of weeks away from match fitness, while Yaya Sanogo sits out the second game of his three-match suspension.
KEY BATTLE – DEFIANCE AND DETERMINATION
Given the performance of the opposition, it’s important not to overhype the manner of the victory over Middlesbrough. Something that can very easily be done if their league position and stature is focused on ahead of their slow, sluggish and Aitor Karanka-less attempts to dominate play.
But there can certainly be some promise taken from the style in which the Addicks played. Organised and defiant, but for the few occasions Jordan Rhodes found some space, at the back, and, through Jordan Cousins’ drive in midfield, countering with pace and determination once possession had been regained.
It’s the sort of style that could be effective against any opposition who will attempt to control the game, but one Charlton’s shambolic defensive efforts and tame midfield battling have prevented from being successful for much of this campaign.
And simply repeating the performance against Boro at Hillsborough on Saturday won’t be enough. Wednesday will be quicker, more effective in their use of the ball, and less likely to be caught flat-footed while the Addicks break.
But defiantly holding off Wednesday’s attacks, before utilising the determination and pace of Cousins, Gudmundsson and Callum Harriott, would appear the best chance Jose Riga’s side have of taking anything away with them from Yorkshire.
Wednesday not crippled by uncertainty, and will be a much tougher opponent. Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 Charlton Athletic
Dear Roland Duchatelet,
Two years ago, a regime did not take over at The Valley to assist the club and support the team, but came to create disorder on the pitch and interfere and damage the heart of a once great club.
Disorder which is, allegedly, needed to drive improvement, make Charlton a competitive Championship club, and create a unique experience for supporters.
Who are the supporters that are supposedly content with this unique experience? For how much longer are you going to destroy the soul and heart of this football club? Is it easier to reach your seemingly selfish goals with a weaker club, empty stands, and disillusioned supporters?
Some individuals within the regime seem to want the club to fail. This is a confused approached, since following this leads to exactly the opposite of what you want: an ego boost and financial gain.
Allegations regarding the CEO are impossible to be misrepresented as they’re there on video and are continuously used as one of a number methods to discredit her position. She fuels personal abuse, hatred, and would rather hide between two security guards than interact with supporters.
Although the regime have informed us that it has happened, you have not met the fans in recent weeks, or at any point during your ownership. Requests from supporters’ groups, and an interested party in Peter Varney’s consortium, have been turned down in ignorant and rude fashion. All other attempts at constructive communication are merely token gestures, palming off supporters and ignoring our real concerns.
We have recorded 32 points from 37 games. A direct result of your flawed regime.
The team has just got seven points from three games, and even that is not enough to make our chances of avoiding relegation appear realistic.
We might still have a chance to make it happen, but your failings mean you cannot claim success if it does. Avoiding relegation would be a relief, and nothing more, for us, and an undeserved reward for your philosophy.
Every football fan knows the 12th man is a crucial factor, so it’s a shame that your regime is so poisonous and flawed that the focus of supporters is split between supporting the team and demanding your removal.
Maybe if you were willing to accept the extent of your failings, and understand the close affinity that us “weird-not-unique-but-weird customers” have with our club, you would see that we have been more than a 12th man in recent weeks.
We have fought for the future of a football club that you are intent on destroying, and your pathetic statement shows we’re winning.
We’re not going away until you have.
Though my mind was perfectly in tune with the idea of walking out of a game with 74 minutes played, having long convinced myself of the benefits of departing early as part of the planned protest during the Middlesbrough game, my body was seemingly not.
For having made my way towards the exit, fully expecting my next destination to be the West Stand car park, I suddenly found myself somewhere in the bowels of The Valley, lying in a hospital-type bed and completely confused as to what was going on.
It emerged that I had had a seizure before I’d even made it to the concourse. Not a totally unusual occurrence, given that I’ve suffered from epilepsy for over two years, but the first time I’d had one at any sort of football, let alone in SE7.
I must thank the excellent paramedics that treated me, as well as those supporters that apparently helped in the immediate aftermath. I even had a black and white scarf wrapped around me, which was most kind.
The confusion, bitten tongue and bloody nose aside, it was particularly frustrating given what an incredible day this was to be an Addick. An incredible day, when we have been so starved of moments to enjoy and feel proud of in recent months. Frustrating, too, that I have not been able to record it in the lengthy form I usually do.
Thankfully, though minor details of the game have been lost, my memory bank was strong enough to hold onto the main events of the day when most of my previous seizures have seen the preceding few hours almost completely lost.
Not only, therefore, did the seizure fail to taint my memory of Jordan Cousins battling superbly in midfield, Nick Pope’s marvellous reaction stop to prevent a Rod Fanni own goal, and the unpredicted sense of joy as Jorge Teixeira turned in Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s corner, but so too can I recall the pride felt throughout the excellent protests.
Above anything else, it was the almost stadium-wide chant of “we want Roland out” as the black and white beach balls prevented play from properly getting underway that felt particularly special. A simple protest that has spread the damage Roland Duchatelet’s regime is doing to the club, and our discontent, around the world, and a strong and united front in the stands that was so passionately demanding his departure.
Equally as simple, and equally as effective, was the whistle-blowing at the start of the second half. No statement or message in that one, but an event that embarrasses Duchatelet’s regime.
So too was the amount of people that took to the streets around The Valley to pay their respects to the death of Charlton Athletic in a very visually striking mock funeral an excellent form of protest that the media have lapped up. Whether it be Sky Sports or Fox, the press are on the side of Charlton supporters, and the pressure on Duchatelet and Katrien Meire to depart is mounting. The protests, sometimes criticised for being nothing more than a weak gimmick, are doing their job.
Of course, their stubbornness is so that they won’t be defeated just yet, but there is only so many more times this regime can suggest they want to work on building relationships with supporters and continue to fail to deliver.
The media, unsurprisingly, took the bait that was the statement Charlton provided, but those closer to the club are fully aware that this is something that has been promised countless times before, and not happened. Turning down meetings with supporter groups, the ignoring of communications, and our treatment as “weird customers” not really signs that suggest a desire to unify.
It means, obviously, that protests will need to continue at a similar pace, maintaining on and building this momentum that grew impressively on Sunday.
Useful, then, that the myth that the protests hurt player performance to an extent that winning at home is impossible has been crushed. Collectively, the Addicks were strong and determined, only allowing Jordan Rhodes the occasional sniff, while individually, Cousins’ performance was his best of a somewhat underwhelming campaign by quite some margin.
And it’s a win that, while not really providing any genuine hope that relegation can be avoided, suggests there is enough fight left in this side to mean the remaining nine games of the season won’t simply be meaningless slogs as the draw with MK Dons implied.
At the very least, the 74 minutes I saw were very enjoyable. An unexpected treat to see us compete so well with, albeit an out of sorts, Middlesbrough, and ultimately battle onto victory. Boro too slow and indecisive, possibly something to do with Aitor Karanka’s absence, and the Addicks were able to repel their threat with relative ease.
A good day to be an Addick, at least until my body decided it had had enough. I’d appreciate it if Duchatelet could also decide he’s had enough as soon as possible.